Children, unlike adults, live in the moment. The greatest gift anyone can give their loved ones is to spend time with them. The bestselling author of Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom once again turns his skills to another story of finding solace among the spectre of death in Finding Chika: A Little Girl, an Earthquake, and the Making of a Family, a heartbreaking memoir about a little girl named Medjerda “Chika” Jeune from Haiti who impacted his life after she came into his life.
Orphaned after her mother died giving birth to a baby brother, Chika soon found herself at The Have Faith Haiti Orphanage in Port Au Prince, where she met Albom. At age five Chika was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), an incurable and aggressive brain tumor where 90% of those afflicted passing away within two years of their diagnosis, and less than 1% surviving five years.
Following her diagnosis, Albom and his wife Janine decide to provide Chika with the loving home she never would’ve received at the orphanage. Albom often mentions how precious time is and how his biggest mistake in life was assuming he would always have more. He chose ambition over starting a family, only to realize what precious moments he missed as a father by pursuing his career. Chika was able to provide him with another chance at being a father.
The diagnosis of a terminal illness is a heavy weight to bear; it’s news no one wants to hear, especially for a child. Albom and his wife decide to fill what little time Chika had left with love and memories, not fear and anxiety. Different treatments come and go like the seasons, interspersed with happy moments like building a pillow fort to hide in. Despite the circumstances, her adopted parental figures thrive in their new domestic makeup of having a child present. And how Chika, while not intentionally, gave them the gift of having a child.
Chika experiences a slow decline in her health over the course of the book, a constant reminder of her limited time. Through it all, Albom and his wife continue to love her as their own, and while they never officially adopted her, they formed an unbreakable bond. Albom often stated how hurtful it was to hear people say how kind he was to a little girl that “wasn’t his own,” as if he would do any less if she had been.
Finding Chika is about the impermanence of life. Death reminds us that our time on Earth is temporary; the less of it we have, the richer it can become. While Chika may have only been a disadvantaged seven-year old, she lived life in the moment, creating memories with the people she loved. Even after her death in April 2017, Chika continues to inspire others as Mitch Albom established the Chika Fund at The Have Faith Haiti Mission to help cover expensive medical costs to other disadvantaged Haitian children. Everywhere Chika went, she impacted the people around her. And isn’t that something we should all aspire to?